Everything You Need to Know About Paper Pallets

What Are Paper Pallets?

INTRODUCTION

Paper pallets have existed for the past 40 years in some form or another, as the result of packaging companies reacting to the challenges associated with wood and metal pallets. These challenges (including cost, weight, cube efficiency, safety, adaptability and disposal) affect all manufacturers and distributors and are important for all packaging products, especially pallets. Let’s look at what a paper pallet is, where they came from, and why they are so important to your operations.

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Chapter 1

What Are Paper Pallets?

Simply put, corrugated pallets, also known as paper pallets, are pallets made from paper board sheets, corrugated material and other reinforced paper goods, rather than wood.

Historically, corrugated pallets have been made in a variety of ways, using different combinations of corrugated top decks and bottom decks, honeycomb support blocks, internal support cells, corrugated runners with vertical flutes, support blocks made from compressed corrugated material, built up runners with support rails made from compressed corrugated material and more. They have also gone through many variations of manual and machine assembly.

However, the variation in designs and engineering have evolved over time to improve shortcomings inherent with a moisture and handling sensitive material.

The History and Evolution of Corrugated Pallets in the USA Textile Industry

In the late 1990s and in the early 2000s, the textile industry took a large downturn in the USA. Many of the United States’ knitters and weavers closed or moved their operation to other countries, particularly in Central America. Spun yarn manufacturing did, however, stay in the USA, and
continued exporting yarn because they grew cotton domestically and power consumption in other countries was more expensive and less reliable.

The corrugated pallets that existed at the time were unreliable. Because the USA spinners had to export their spun yarns to other countries, they demanded a better way to ship yarn pallets overseas.

Over the years, packaging companies had to overcome challenges like high-moisture environments, multiple-touch transportation, increasingly heavier loads, changing machinery and the cost to develop, test and distribute better pallets.

Today’s corrugated pallet users benefit from the well-evolved innovation backing modern packaging solutions. Now, paper pallets are a strong, environmentally friendly, adaptable and cost-effective shipping solution.

The Different Types of Paper Pallets

Manufacturers are faced with a few options when choosing the best type of pallet for their needs. For example, should you choose wood or paper? We’re here to tell you corrugated pallets are more cost-effective and more customizable than their wooden counterparts.

You’ve heard that corrugated pallets are customizable. But just how customizable are they? Well, they’re designed to take on different sizes and shapes depending on your needs. As a very user-friendly option, paper pallets present different options for you to choose from.

Chapter 2

Corrugated Paper Pallet Customization Options

Because of the materials used to make corrugated pallets, they can be custom designed to fit specific application requirements and consistently ensure dimensional accuracy. This provides extremely
consistent pallet tare weights which is beneficial for companies who sell their product by the pound.

Look for pallet manufacturers that offer custom design support with highly-experienced engineers. Consider top sheet die cut options or customizing your top sheet as trays or boxes to eliminate the need for additional slip sheets. The materials used for paper pallets also offer a clean, smooth design for printing and RFID identification for enhanced marketing and tracking of your products.

Paper pallet customization extends beyond the shape or function of the pallets. It’s all based on your product and what you need out of your pallets.

Top deck options:

  • Single wall top deck
  • Double wall top deck
  • Triple wall top deck
  • Die cut top deck
  • Honeycomb top deck

Runners are an important part of how paper pallets work. They’re built to fit any size and strength requirement. Custom designs provide specific support and protection for loads that are not evenly distributed on pallets.

Corrugated runner options:

  • 2 way runner
  • 4 way runner

Last but not least, the bottom of a paper pallet can be customized as well. This part of the pallet is based on your product’s strength and stability requirements. The cut of the bottom sheet is determined by the device you’re using to handle the pallets.

Bottom sheet options:

  • Solid bottom
  • Pallet jack access bottom

Chapter 3

Breaking the Myth of Paper Pallets: Are They Strong Enough?

Just because corrugated pallets are lightweight, doesn’t mean they are weak. Paper pallets built with runners, cores and top sheets made from corrugated materials act like a bridge. The parts themselves may not seem like much, but with some engineering genius, they come together to make a strong, reliable mechanism. For many applications, paper pallets are better options for weight, strength, durability and cost for your exporting needs.

Just like cardboard boxes have replaced wooden crates, corrugated paper pallets are now competitive with first-rate hardwood pallets. At Conitex-Sonoco, we manufacture and distribute paper pallets, not pallets made from timber, and we are often asked about the difference in quality and effectiveness in handling the precious cargo our clients transport.

Specifically, we are asked about the strength of paper pallets:

"How can cardboard hold the same weight as wooden pallets?"

"Wouldn’t paper pallets buckle under the weight when it’s on my forklift?"
 
"I mean it’s paper, it’s weak. Why should I trust it?"
 

We’re going to be honest with you. If you hold out a single piece of cardboard and a piece of wood, there is no competition to the wood’s strength. However, good engineering is really about finding a way to make a given quantity of materials perform a certain function. Engineers continue to take corrugated paper and create resilient pallets of different shapes and sizes that can handle whatever you want to carry.

Think of a pallet as a really small bridge. You're using a pallet to hold something up without it crashing to the ground.


Some Facts About Paper Pallets

  • 94 percent of transported goods are moved using pallets with billions of pallets in circulation.
  • Paper pallets are very resilient for their relative cost and weight.
  • They are mostly made from recycled fiber content.
  • Like cardboard boxes, paper pallets and are 100 percent recyclable.
  • Paper pallets are OSHA compliant because they are lightweight, do not use nails or staples as fasteners, and never splinter.
  • Each paper pallet weighs between 13 and 16 lbs. That’s about one-third of the weight of a wooden pallet.

How much can cardboard pallets hold?

Paper pallets can support a load up to 10,000 lbs (about 4536 kg). For comparison, a standard wooden pallet can typically hold about 4,600 lbs (about 2087 kg).

Let’s put that in perspective. By saying a paper pallet can hold up to 10,000 pounds, we are also saying 15 lbs of paper can support:

  • 2 Rhinoceroses (weighing in at 4,600 lbs a piece)
  • 10 Grand Pianos (weighing in at 990 lbs a piece)
  • 303 Bushels of Dried Peanuts
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How can paper pallets hold so much weight?

Made with Corrugated Paper

What is corrugated paper? Simply, corrugated paper is a thick paperboard used for packaging materials. It is made of two to three layers of thick paper that are grooved and ridged in an alternating pattern to create a more rigid and strong paper material.

Corrugated paper is stronger along one axis than another (just like wood). Based on this, engineers can save material and weight by making different parts support each other. Just like steel cables are purpose-built to live under tension, so corrugated can be designed for what it does best.

Paper Pallet Design

A large part of the strength of a cardboard pallet lies in its design. Paper pallet runners liken to those of wooden pallets and run lengthwise across the pallet.

For example, paper pallets that have specialized cylindrical cores housed in each runner depend on this design to support weight across the entire pallet.

Engineers working on your application-specific design take into consideration the location of the load-bearing points of contact with the pallet (if the product is not equally distributed) and provide reinforcement through their core, or other load- bearing technology.

Because they are custom designed, they can be great for unequal weight distribution on the pallet and can be two-way or four-way entry to be conveyor and forklift friendly. It is also possible to make pallets with or without a bottom sheet. For conveyors (and other applications), the bottom sheet is great. However, removing it can create savings and allow more custom applications. Not to
mention that in the absence of a bottom sheet, pallets can be nested for shipment, allowing almost twice as many per truckload.

As paper pallets continue to become more and more widely used, you will see even more engineering marvels in the use of paper materials for the packaging and transporting industries.

 

Chapter 4

The Benefits of Paper Pallets

Paper pallets can be a great option for your companies storage and transportation needs. Their size, shape, durability and are just a few of the great benefits paper pallets can provide to your operations.

Material Comparison: Paper vs. Wood

Let’s take a look at what the true differences are between wood pallets and cardboard pallets.

  Typical Wooden Pallets  Typical Corrugated Pallets 
Load Capacity: 4,600 lbs (about 2087 kg) 3,000 - 15,000* lbs (about 4,536 kg
Weight: 30-70 lbs (about 13.6 31.8 kg) 13-16 lbs (about 5.9 - 7.3 kg)
Cost for 1 Pallet: $10 - $25 US $7 - $20 US

*by custom application

Dimensions of Corrugated Pallets vs Wood Pallets

The standard dimensions for a wood pallet are 48 x 40 inches but can range from 30 x 30 inches to 48 x 48 inches. Regardless of the exact dimensions, wood pallets are always rectangles.

Corrugated paper pallets are totally customizable to your needs by shape, size and durability including weight loads, sizes, and stack heights. Typically you can choose from low profile pallets, light, medium and heavy-duty constructions, all with die-cut options to customize the top sheet to the product being shipped. Are you shipping a round product? You probably want a round pallet to ensure weight distribution and maneuverability around the product, about 1440 pounds of savings on a 45-foot export shipping container.

Because cardboard pallets weigh significantly less than their wooden counterparts, they are ideal for delivering freight and fuel savings, with more room for your product in each shipment.

Paper Pallets are Lightweight

Some paper pallets weigh only a third of the weight of a wood pallet! Lighter- weight shipping materials deliver you freight and fuel savings and can result in more product per shipment making them ideal for export. PLUS - if you have eco- friendly initiatives, all of these factors contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

Paper Pallets are Safe

Paper pallets are considered very safe because they weigh significantly less than wood and even plastic pallets, they don’t use nails and staples and they will never splinter. All of these factors help protect your people and your product. Switching to paper pallets can help curb workers’ compensation injuries, particularly hand and back injuries. Also, these factors help prevent damaging your products and product packaging.

Corrugated pallets require attention to proper handling which can translate to reduced damage to your product. One manufacturer reported reducing product damage by 60% after converting to paper pallets and upgrading handling procedures.

Safety of Corrugated Pallets vs. Wood Pallets

Because cardboard pallets weigh significantly less than wooden pallets, they are much safer for workers to handle. In addition, nails, staples and splinters all come with their own safety hazards and are only found on wooden pallets.

Paper Pallets are Clean and Hygienic

Paper pallets can be made using engineered corrugated products that are suited for cleanroom environments in medical, pharmaceutical and non-wet food applications.

Look for paper pallets that boast a strong resistance to moisture and humidity to help prevent mold and other hygienic issues. Water-resistant adhesives, heavy- duty support cores and heat resistant paper ensure your people and products are kept away from contaminants.

Using corrugated paper pallets can reduce the spread of hazardous materials in your facility and around your product and employees.

Paper Pallets are Ideal for Export

Wood can start off with contaminates like insects, fungus and bacteria. Of course, insects can make their way into anything, but because wood has often not been heavily processed, it contains much of its original environment and ecology and requires heat treatments and fumigation to be usable for international shipping and other food, health and safety requirements. Corrugated paper starts as a sterile product and complies with ISPM's phytosanitary requirements, so the only contaminate worries become what the pallet picks up from its post-process environment.

Paper pallets do not require these treatments to be 100 percent sanitary and are well-suited for cleanroom environments. Plus, these corrugated pallets are also made with non-wicking cores for added stability and moisture resistance in environments such as ocean containers.73daf9e6e9d15cbe176ea4e82740164e

Paper Pallets are Environmentally-Friendly

Adopting sustainable packaging and transporting of your goods can greatly add value to your operations strategy, help you grow your company and increase your global competitiveness.

If you are using pallets to transport goods to your clients or other facilities, you have a great opportunity in front of you to update your sustainability practices.

Look for paper pallets that use non-hazardous, biodegradable and water-resistant adhesives, and suppliers that are SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) Certified.

Paper Pallets are Easy to Recycle

If you are looking for a pallet to help with your recycling or zero waste initiatives, you need to look at what your pallets are made from. Paper is a very easy material to recycle, especially in comparison to wood. In most cases, corrugated paper pallets are 100 percent recyclable because they aren't held together by nails or staples and can be bailed with other paper materials like boxes and edge protectors. As a bonus, paper can also be made completely out of recycled materials; the sustainability goes full circle.

Over a 20 year span, General Motors required all deliveries to its 62 facilities use paper pallets. This aided in establishing GM's zero waste status and self-reporting $2 billion in recycling revenue, according to GreenBiz.

Recycling Corrugated Pallets vs Wood Pallets

To recycle wooden pallets, you must take them to facilities that can shred the wood. The recyclers must also have access to metal separating tools like a magnet to separate out the nails and staples for recycling. This can be quite costly.

On the other hand, feel free to bale your paper pallets alongside cardboard boxes and other corrugated packaging products. This can lower your disposal costs and can generate revenue upon proper disposal. This is a big bonus for corrugated pallets since they can generally only be used for one trip.

Paper Pallets Help Reduce Carbon Emissions

As ChangeThePallet.org so perfectly put it:

Pallets = Weight. Weight = Fuel. Fuel = Carbon.

Lightweight corrugated paper pallets can weigh up to 80 percent less than their wooden pallet counterparts. Using paper pallets to ship your goods in trucks or planes can greatly reduce your shipping cost - and the cost of transport on the planet. When your shipment weighs less, your transportation methods require less fuel to get it from point A to point B. Can you imagine the impact switching to paper pallets could make in the United States alone - and the billions of pounds of pallets moved every year?

Using the average paper pallet translates to 1800 lbs of savings on a 53-foot trailer and 1440 lbs of savings on a 45-foot export shipping container, compared to wooden pallets.

For example, IKEA®'s Handling Material No Wood (HM NOW) project made the switch from mostly wooden pallets to almost all paper pallets for inbound and outbound shipments around the world. According to Jerome Jansen, Packaging Requirements & Compliance Specialist at IKEA®,

"This has enabled us to avoid between 50,000 and 100,000 transport movements a year” resulting in a reduction in CO2 emissions by more than 550,000 metric tons since 2012.

Chapter 5

How Do We Know So Much About These Benefits?

Paper pallets undergo specific rigorous testing to ensure their safety, strength and durability.

There really are so many cool challenges that come up with designing and testing paper pallets on a day-to-day basis, and as an engineer, you stay busy with the science of it all.

This is what makes testing paper pallets unique from testing wooden pallets. There are all kinds of regulations and tests that have been done and perfected over the course of the past 120- year lifespan of wood pallets. The corrugated pallets we know now are relatively new.

Years ago, corrugated pallet designers focused on vertical flutes for strength. Therefore, most tests were done using the box compression test (BCT) to measure the maximum load a box could hold. To estimate the BCT of a paper pallet, engineers used the strength of a corrugated box with the same BCT and multiplied that by the number of corners on the pallet. That was supposed to give you the “strength” of the pallet.

As the corrugated pallet has evolved to take on different shapes, styles and compositions, testing has evolved along with them to ensure the most top-notch, safe and in-spec products are reliably delivered.

One of these fundamental evolutions of the corrugated pallet was the addition of cores to the runners for stability and strength. The concept for using round cores inside the corrugated pallets stemmed from the availability of unused paper tubes in packaging manufacturers’ warehouses. Since then, some paper pallet manufacturers have switched from these recycled cores to manufactured cores, necessitating a new set of tests to be run.

Let’s look at some of the different tests, what engineers are looking for in each and what they mean for you as the consumer.

Testing the Components of a Corrugated Pallet

Pallets are like tiny bridges and follow a similar testing regimen. Even some of the testing machinery is comparable. First, it is important to test the different components of a paper pallet to gauge strength, sturdiness and reliability. If the individual pieces of the pallet don’t hold up to certain standards, engineers must make changes before they can assemble.

Engineers use these tests to gauge individual corrugated boards and paper cores that make up a corrugated pallet.

Edge Crush Test for Corrugated Boards

Engineers use the Edge Crush Test (ECT) to test individual corrugated boards. ECT is a set measurable standard measuring cross-directional crushing of a corrugated board. This tells you how that board’s construction will stand up to crushing (also known as its edgewise compressive strength).

This standardized test helps ensure that if a pallet design uses a specific ECT board, manufacturers can replicate the design and the new pallet will perform the same regardless of where the corrugated board came from. This provides a higher level of continuity that doesn’t exist with wood.

Check out the ECT standards below:

 

Edge Crush Test

Maximum Load

Standard

32 ECT

40 lbs.

Heavy Duty

44 ECT

65 lbs.

Heavy Duty - Double Wall

48 ECT

80 lbs.

For more details on ECT, check out the ISO 3037:2007-03, Corrugated fibreboard - Determination of edgewise crush resistance.

Compression Test on Paper Pallet Cores

This test is very important because the strength of these corrugated pallets lies in the cores.

The compression test measures what pressure causes the core to crush by applying pressure to a paper core with either a motorized or pneumatic piston. This way engineers get a very accurate measurement of the strength of a core.

Engineers repeat this test as they change the design and functionality of the cores.

Testing Assembled Paper Pallets

Deflection Test for Paper Pallets

This is where engineers evaluate deflection across the pallet's horizontal frame while it is suspended. This tests the top deck's strength in the area between the runners. Engineers look for the least amount of deflection across the plane of the unsupported parts of the pallet.

This is part of Virginia Tech’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design’s process for determining the load capacity of the pallet. Specifically, this is part of a bigger picture to test the overall functionality:

  1. Conduct a stiffness test
  2. Measure the deflection of the pallet under the test load at the end of the creep time
  3. Compare the deflection to the performance limit
  4. Adjust the test load to achieve deflection close to the performance limit
  5. Compare the test load to the maximum safe load (The smallest will be your safe load or load capacity)

There are ways to minimize this deflection. For example, engineers can change the spacing of the runners. If the runners are closer together, there is less of a chance for the top sheet to collapse.

Water Testing for Paper Pallets

Another important factor is how much moisture a paper pallet can take. Engineers test if a pallet's performance changes while holding the weight of a full load as it sits in water. The objective is for the top of the pallet and the product to remain dry and, in the instance of our design, for the cores to avoid wicking. If the top sheet remains dry, you can assume the pallet still can support the weight of the load as if it had never gotten wet to begin with.

For example, we conducted a test of a 1000 pound load in ¼ inch of water for two weeks. At the end of this time, the pallet had not collapsed and could still be lifted. The corrugated parts would flex and warp, but if allowed to dry could retain shape. This isn't to say the pallet will "work" under these conditions, but will not collapse.

“Air Bladder Test” for Paper Pallet Strength, Stiffness and Durability

Prior to testing, engineers set a limit of deflection for the pallet to pass the test.

A pallet testing rig is set specifically to spread the pallet across the leakage point with a runner supported on a platform. The unsupported area between the runners is completely suspended. Above this they have an air bladder suspended on a rigid platen. The pressure from this air bladder acts as a general-purpose load uniformly applied to the pallet. The amount of deflection signifies the strength and stiffness of the corrugated pallet.

To give you some numbers for perspective: our three-runner corrugated pallet, with three cores per runner, is a 48 x 40 standard. It was rated for 2500 pounds by Virginia Tech’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design.

Note: This air bladder test represents a more flexible load. A more rigid load, like a big wooden box, could hold much more, even with this tested design. Also, we’ve made updates to our designs and expect our new pallets to test even better.

What about testing custom corrugated pallets?

Corrugated pallets are highly customizable. You can die cut them to fit your product or customize the top sheet into a tray to display your product.

For a pallet manufacturer, it is imperative to get samples of these custom corrugated designs to the client as soon as possible, while ensuring the updated functionality has been tested to meet the client's requirements.

The majority of the testing any pallet manufacturer does in-house will be for these custom designs. Because engineers keep component tests up-to-date, they can build custom designs pretty quickly to spec.

With corrugated, manufacturers have the capability to turn around a new pallet design in a day. A few days after that, they build a prototype. About 12 days later, pallet manufacturers can have a ready to test pallet sample at your facility where you can test it yourself under your specific circumstances and real-world conditions.

Chapter 6

How Much Do Paper Pallets Cost and Why?

What’s important to you when you are choosing your packaging and shipping materials? No doubt, pricing is a large consideration in your process. We understand! When it comes to pallets, skimping on price could mean you are using the wrong products which can lead to damaged goods, injured employees and lots of extra effort. On the other hand, you don’t want to waste money on your packaging, putting a strain on the rest of your operations budget.

The Purchase Price of a Paper Pallet

The purchase price of a paper pallet directly corresponds to the pallet’s strength. You are paying for materials and engineering depending on what you need your pallet's capabilities to be.

If you are comparing the price of paper pallets and wooden pallets apples to apples, paper is generally more expensive. If you are shipping a load in the mid to upper range for size, maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds, wood may be your best option purely based on the price of the pallet itself. But let’s look at some pricing options for paper pallets and explore why they cost what they cost.

The least expensive paper pallet you will find is a simple, light duty pallet in the $5 to $7 US range. These are not very common and are used for light loads requiring a very lightweight deck with feet for shipping.

The sweet spot for paper pallets is mid-range strength ranging from $7 to $12 US.

The top range of paper pallets ranges from $12 to $18 US and can even go up from there for extra strength and customizations.

Best Uses for Paper Pallets Based on Price

How much strength do you really need? How heavy is the load you are trying to use this pallet for and how rigidly is it packed?

Pallet Strength for Small Loads

Inherently, paper is weaker than wood, but with the right engineering, paper can be the perfect material for your shipment based on price and strength. Are you paying for an overdesigned wooden pallet? Do you need your pallet to have a 4,000-pound capacity? In some cases, you may be paying more for a pallet that is stronger than it needs to be. For example, if your load is only 200 lbs, a three or four thousand pound capacity wooden pallet is overkill.

Pallet Strength for Rigid Loads

Also in regards to strength, wood offers the benefit of bending strength. This is great for loads that are not very rigid or hang off the sides of a pallet. With bending strength, the wooden pallet can “give” when the weight isn’t evenly distributed without breaking.

Are you paying for features like this that you don’t need? The bending strength of wood is a wasted engineering property if you don’t need it. If your load is already very rigid, paper pallets perform extremely well. For example, consider you are moving a product or a load of products that is already packed tightly and fixed. We have customers who use pallets to ship single, large, filled cardboard boxes. In this case, paper pallets are a real winner and provide an opportunity to cut cost. Because you don’t need the pallet to make up for the rigidity of your load, you require less strength.

Don’t Pay Extra for Strength You Don’t Need

Along with strength comes weight. Sometimes you need more weight to your pallet to make it stronger. There are a few weight considerations you should think about when choosing what pallets to use and their cost to your company.

Always remember, you can get a heavier-duty corrugated paper pallet, so make sure you work with an expert manufacturer and communicate your needs and applications to ensure you find the best fit. Corrugated pallets can be made in light, medium and heavy-duty constructions to help you maximize your budget and efficiencies.

SAVINGS TIP

What is that extra weight costing you after the purchase? Pallets are deadweight you are adding to the existing weight of your load or shipment. Essentially, for every pallet you buy, you must also pay to move it whether using your own machinery or paying for fuel, especially with air freight.

Chapter 7

Paper Pallets That Fit Your Needs!

Each of our corrugated paper pallets is produced according to your requirements (with options for standard sizes and specifications for multiple applications across various industries).

The LoadRunner® corrugated pallet, developed by Conitex Sonoco, has a 10 year record of successful performance with domestic and export shipments.

 

 

TALK TO A PAPER PALLET EXPERT

 

 

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